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A Serendipitous Discovery

at Tintern Abbey

Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Armstrong

I have been researching William Marshal, Isabel de Clare, Richard "Strongbow" de Clare and the Marshal and de Clare families for over six years in order to write a new biography of William Marshal in terms of the customs, practices, and bonds of English medieval feudalism.

My research has produced a set of concise biographies of William Marshal; John fitz Gilbert, the Marshal; Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare, "Strongbow"; The Parents of Isabel de Clare; and The Children of William Marshal and Isabel de Clare for the Internet site "The Castles of Wales." [http://www.castlewales.com/armstrng.html] The bibliographies attached to each of these sites will give evidence of the scope and depth of the research I have already completed and verify my status as a medieval historian.

I still have unanswered questions regarding Marshal, his family, and his life, and therefore, I am still actively researching some aspects of that life. One question I wanted the answer to was what coat of arms did Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare, created Earl of Pembroke in 1138, and father to Richard "Strongbow" de Clare, carry. I knew that the early arms of the de Clare family were six red chevronnels on a field of gold, but it was reduced to three red chevrons on a field of gold some time around 1138 (Dennys 97). Knowing that Gilbert was a younger son and not the heir to the senior de Clare titles and lands, I reasoned that his coat of arms might be differenced from those of his brother, Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare, lord of Clare, Tonbridge, and Cardigan. I knew that the history of arms borne by a family, particularly the arms of the earlier Anglo-Norman families of Britain, was most likely to be found in the records and manuscripts of The College of Arms. When I searched library catalogues and the bibliographies of the books I had already used in my own research, I found a book entitled Visitations by the Heralds in Wales transcribed and edited by William Powell Siddons, published in Stroud, Gloucestershire by Alan Sutton Publishing, Ltd., in 1996. I requested this book through the interlibrary loan department of Kennesaw State University and received it on September 6, 2000. In this book I did not find the coat of arms of Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare, but I did discover a fact that I did not know--one that I have not seen recorded in any historical texts.

On pages 37, 38, and 39 of this book under the heading "William Fellow’s Visitation of South Wales and Herefordshire, 1531" and under the subheading "Tintern Abbey," I discovered the burial place not only of Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare, Strongbow’s father, but also the burial place of Aoife[Eve] Mac Murrough [MacMurchada] daughter of Dermot King of Leinster, wife of Richard "Strongbow" de Clare, and mother of Isabel de Clare (37-9). To my knowledge no one has recorded the date of Aoife’s death or her place of burial in any currently in-print history texts of this time period. It seems I have discovered a previously unknown fact. I knew that Aoife [Eve] de Clare was alive and recorded in the Pipe Rolls of the 30th, 33rd, and 34th years of the reign of Henry II covering the years 1183-1187 (154; 55; 142). One of the last known primary source records of Aoife [Eve] de Clare is a copy of a charter she issued as "Eve comitissa heres Regis Deremicii" confirming to John Cumin, archbishop of Dublin [1181-1212] and his successors possessions that had been previously granted by Aoife with "comes John’s" confirmation (Earldom of Gloucester Charters 23; MacNiocaill 282-306; Flanagan 133-4). Since John did not become a "comes" until 1189 when he became Count of Mortain and Earl of Gloucester, this charter could date to 1185-1189 or 1189-1194.

For Aoife [princess of Leinster and widow of "Strongbow"] to be buried in Tintern Abbey, she must have died in Wales. Aoife was an Irish princess; "Strongbow," is buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity [Christ Church] in Dublin (Barnard 92; Diceto i 407). Common sense and the customs of the times dictate that only by dying in Wales would Aoife have been buried there. The discovery of Aoife MacMurrough’s [MacMurchada] burial place raises more questions than it answers. When did she return to Wales from Ireland? What was she doing in Wales? When did she die? Is this why her daughter Isabel de Clare and Isabel’s two youngest sons are buried at Tintern? This discovery opens an entirely new area of research, one that I will pursue in my own quest to write a more complete biography of William Marshal and his family.


Barnard, Francis Pierrepont. Strongbow’s Conquest of Ireland. New York: G. P.

Putnam’s Sons, 1888.

Calendar of Documents Relating to Ireland. Ed. H. S. Sweetman. London: Longmans,


Dennys, Rodney. Heraldry and Heralds. London: Jonathan Cope, 1982.

Earldom of Gloucester Charters. Ed. R. Patterson. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1973.

Flanagan, Marie Theresa. Irish Society, Anglo-Norman Settlers, and Angevin Kingship.

Oxford: Oxford U P, 1989.

The Great Roll of the Pipe for the Thirtieth Year of the Reign of King Henry II 1183-1184.

London: St Catherine’s Press, 1912. Reprint Vaduz: Kraus, 1966.

The Great Roll of the Pipe for the Thirty-First Year of the Reign of King Henry II 1184

-1185. London: Pipe Roll Society, 1913. Vaduz: Kraus, 1966.

The Great Roll of the Pipe for the Thiry-Third Year of the Reign of King Henry II 1186

-1187. London: St Catherine Press, 1915. Vaduz: Kraus, 1966.

MacNiocaill, G. "The Charters of John, Lord of Ireland, to the See of Dublin."

Reportorium Novum 31 (1963-4): 282-306.

Ralph of Diceto: Radulphi de Diceto decani Lundoniensis opera historica. 2 vols. Ed.

W. Stubbs. London: Pipe Roll Series, 1876.

Round, J. H. "The Countess of Ireland." Genealogist 18 (1901): 166-7.

Visitations by the Heralds in Wales. Ed. & trans. Michael Powell Siddons. Stroud,

Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton Publishing, Ltd., 1996.

Ms Armstrong's essays listed below form a complementary 4-part series focusing on the life and times of William Marshal and his father-in-law Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare two of the most powerful and influential men of their time. Each essay is accompanied by an extensive and valuable bibliography.

Ms Armstrong has Master's degree in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, Georgia. Her field is medieval English history. Her specific field is William Marshal, his fiefs and "familiares". Her concentration is on the lands and people bound to Marshal by blood and marriage, by feudal tenure, and by "affinity". She can be reached via e-mail at: seneschal@peoplepc.com.


William Marshal

John fitz Gilbert (Marshal's father)

Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare, Strongbow (Marshal's father-in-law)

The parents of Isabel de Clare (Marshal's wife)

The Children of William Marshal and Isabel de Clare


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